About 40 years ago, Malcolm Smith was invited to speak at a church in Oregon. He preached about a God who is irritated and annoyed with lukewarm believers. At the end of his message, he called for people to rededicate their lives to Christ. And that was the last time Smith ever mixed grace with works. The next morning, Smith had a life-changing encounter with the love of God. For the first time he saw the gospel that declares the unqualified good news of God’s love. Changed by this revelation, he went back to his hotel room and destroyed his sermons.
I’ve never heard Malcolm Smith preach, but I get the sense he’s been preaching radical grace longer than some of us have been alive. If you want to learn some of the insights he’s acquired in his grace walk, then read The Lost Secret of the New Covenant. This book is possibly the definitive introduction to the new covenant. It’s outstanding.
Many of us are not intuitively geared to think in terms of covenants and this affects the way we receive the gospel. We may confuse covenants with contracts, but they have little in common, as Malcolm Smith explains:
A contract is the exchange and passing of property, possessions; a covenant is the exchange of persons. The contract says, ‘This is now yours,’ while the covenant says, ‘I am now yours.’ So God does not merely promise His impersonal blessings; His blessing is the gift of Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit. (p.252)
In Lost Secret, Malcolm Smith unpackages the key ingredients of covenant – the oath, the meal, the sacrifice, and, most importantly, the representative. Each party in a covenant has a representative. Who represents humanity in the new covenant? Jesus, our Advocate, Mediator and High Priest (1 Tim 2:5). The first thing you need to know about the new covenant, is that you played no part in setting it up:
The new covenant is not made with us as individuals. It is a covenant made by God the Father with God the Son. (p.75)
The new covenant is out of our hands and guaranteed by God Himself. This makes it an eternal, unconditional and unbreakable covenant for God cannot lie. In this arrangement we are like crippled Mephibosheth being shown kindness by King David because of a covenant made before we were born. We are the beneficiaries of Jesus’ sacrifice and God’s own oath. Dead religion is based on the worthless promises of imperfect men, but we stand on the unshakeable oath of God Himself. It is His promise-keeping – not ours – that provides a “firm and secure” anchor for the soul (Heb 6:19). What relief! What freedom to know that our eternal security rests in Him:
I had always thought of my relationship with God as being between God and me… I cannot tell you what it meant to know that my relationship to God was based on and dependent upon Jesus, who was acting as me. (p.224)
The single most important thing I learned about covenant from this book is that God doesn’t need one. He doesn’t need a covenant to prove His commitment to us, but He makes covenant in order that we might clearly see His eternal lovingkindness. The gospel is the good news of God’s love expressed to us in covenant. Why did He make a covenant where He forgives all our sin before we were even born? Because He loves us with no strings attached! There is no other explanation.
The Bible is full of covenant stories that help us understand the new covenant. Consider the Gibeonites who were Israel’s enemies. Through deceit they managed to trick Joshua and the Israelites into making a covenant guaranteeing their lives (Jos 9). As Israel was in covenant with God, the result was that Gibeonites were now also in partnership with God. When five Canaanite kings attacked Gibeon, the Gibeonites appealed to their new covenant partners for help. And you know what happened next; God intervened with one of the great miracles of all time and stopped the sun from going down. Gibeon was saved (Jos 10). This shows us that God’s covenant love is unshakeable, even to those who don’t deserve it. From the moment you put your trust in Jesus, you’re in God’s care forever. Just look at how vigorously this truth is expressed in Scripture:
For He [God] Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. [I will] not, [I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let [you] down (relax My hold on you)! [Assuredly not!] (Heb 13:5, AMP)
In Lost Secret, Malcolm Smith delves into the rich meaning of words like hesed (the lovingkindness of God as expressed in covenant) and agape (love that originates in the heart of God and is unaffected by the loveliness or unloveliness of the object of its affection). These words are essential if we are to understand the new covenant. Afterall, God is not human. He doesn’t love in the way humans love. We completely miss the gospel when we conceive of God as loving only those who are lovely or saving those who deserve saving. The good news, from start to finish, is God’s idea.
From the very beginning, the initiative for our salvation has come from God. Humankind has not asked Him for salvation, nor have we shown any desire to be saved. The newly fallen couple in the Garden of Eden did not show any signs of repentance… ‘men loved darkness rather than light’. (p.118)
One of the great themes in Lost Secret is how God has always loved us with red-hot, unconditional love. He didn’t have a change of heart after Calvary. The Old Testament is peppered with declarations and promises of God’s forgiveness and lovingkindness. Even before the cross God was reaching out in love to covenant-breakers like David, who murdered Uriah. David lived under the unforgiving law of Moses. David should have been stoned to death for his sin, but he appealed beyond the law to the covenant heart of God:
Have mercy (hesed) upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of your tender mercies… (Ps 51:1)
And God did! David lived, even though his sin still had consequences. All through the Bible – both testaments – the unconditional lovingkindness of a God who is love is shown to undeserving, sinful people. His love is greater than any covenant, but is most clearly revealed in the new.
Lost Secret is really two books in one. The first half is describes the new covenant, while the second half tells us how to live in that covenant. There is practical instruction on how to work out your salvation, how to overcome temptation, and how to put on Christ. But ultimately this is more than a how-to book. The main takeaway of Lost Secret is the call to know God and revel in His love. Wherever we are in life, His unshakeable, unchanging, and limitless love is the true north by which fix our position. What is the purpose of the new covenant? To reveal His love that we might know and enjoy Him:
It is a shock to many who would settle for a life of serving God that, above all else, He fervently desires our friendship. He desires us infinitely more than we desire Him… He would rather die than not have you with Him. This is the wonder of the message of covenant. (p.279)
To a religious mindset that worships a distorted image of God, this is scandalous, even blasphemous. But for the rest of us, this is the greatest news in the world!